Writing

:: Looking back at January ::

After several sessions of wondering (i.e. overthinking) if my little monthly review is worth the time and effort, I’ve concluded that it is a nice exercise for me to reflect on the highs and, if I’m being honest, omit the lows, from each month. If you’ve been following along, I completely skipped over December, which was unintentional but c’est la vie. (In spite of the holiday, it was a pretty quiet month. We didn’t travel home to the PNW and enjoyed our first Christmas in Los Angeles.) Anyway, I’m just going to pick it back up with a fresh recap for the first month of 2018.

Before I proceed, I will say that January is a hard month for me. All of them are difficult, not just the current one. In the span of days between Christmas and New Year’s, I get caught up in the energy of goal setting and planning and creating a number of unrealistic expectations for myself and my life.  Then, usually about two weeks into the new year, I get bitch-slapped by reality and return to regularly scheduled programming: feeling overwhelmed by too many ideas, paralyzing procrastination, and an existence that doesn’t quite measure up to that vision board kind of life I desire.

So, yeah, the year is off to a great start.

BUT, there have been some of those aforementioned highs and that’s where I’m trying to focus my energy!

➼ I celebrated my first full year of sobriety on January 5th.

➼ I worked out. A lot! I did a combination of four types of Crossfit classes (including regular classes, Olympic lifting, mechanics, and cardio conditioning) totaling 40 sessions. I also ran 15.75 miles.

➼ I set new personal records in the power clean and front squat (3 rep max.), and saw significant improvement in my pull-ups, handstand/handstand walk, and rope climbs.

➼ We welcomed the new year in the company of my brother and his family.

➼ I experienced my first red carpet.

➼ I was welcomed back by Sportland Tea Co. as an ambassador for another year.

➼ I submitted queries to two online publications. I received a response back from one of them and they will be publishing an article I wrote in the near future. Yay!

➼ I finished two books (one I started in December) and began a third. (My goal this year is to read a minimum of 20 books. Hopefully more!)

➼ I wrote alot too. My manuscript word count is currently up to 67,280.

 

I hope your year has started off with a bang – in the best way possible – and that trend continues into February and beyond!

 

 

 

 

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:: What Feeds YOUR Creativity? ::

* This post is in response to a writing prompt from DIY MFA Book Club which I wrote about here.

The fourth writing prompt in the series is:

When I first sat down to ponder this writing prompt, I had a hard time coming up with something so I put off writing about it at all. Can procrastination count as fuel for creativity? Unlikely, I suppose.

After finally diving in and giving it some consideration, the few things that stood out to me were my odd interest in the lives of people who were/are associated with historical figures, my compulsive Instagram trolling, and – no surprise here – my love of vast, awe-inspiring landscapes. I’m a very visual person. Not that I am necessarily a visual learner but I find a lot of inspiration in images and seeing how other people live.

I also get fired up by witnessing other creatives living fully in their passion and weirdly, by images of their creative spaces, i.e. where they make their magic.

While I know that writing prompts, such as this one, are a common and popular tool for getting the juices flowing, I haven’t allowed myself enough exploration to see if it could be a good resource for me too. The closest I’ve come is half-finished sentences when I pause or take a break from writing that I have to complete when I return to working.

Okay, I’m procrastinating again. I’m off to work on my manuscript! (Right after I check Instagram.)

:: My Storytelling Superpower ::

* This post is in response to a writing prompt from DIY MFA Book Club which I wrote about here.

The third writing prompt in the series is this:

 

Whoa. Like OMG, WHOA.

Included with the third writing prompt was a fun little quiz to help participants figure out their storytelling superpower. My result was The Survivor which was summarized as:

You’ve got a penchant for characters who will do whatever it takes to survive. Maybe they’re stranded on a desert island, captured by an evil genius, or fighting to beat a terminal illness. Or maybe they want something so desperately that not getting it feels like a matter of life and death. Regardless of their situation, you’re drawn to creating characters your readers will admire for their pluck, determination, and sheer creative willpower.

This blew my mind because my protagonist in the novel I’m writing, The Colonel’s Keeper, is a survivor, hands-down. My character, Mary Agnes, endures a tumultuous marriage filled with years of emotional abuse and a near-fatal shooting at the hands of her alcoholic husband.

Throughout this process, I’ve been amused by the idiosyncrasies that have surfaced. The discoveries I’ve made, being drawn to writing about survivors, for example, have been a pleasant surprise. My inclination to write works of historical fiction was another unexpected revelation, especially since history (edging out math only slightly) was my least favorite subject of study in school.

I’m not sure I’d call either of these a superpower but they are definitely themes that I imagine will recur as I continue to hone my craft.

:: Honor Your Reality ::

* This post is in response to a writing prompt from DIY MFA Book Club which I wrote about here.

The second writing prompt in the series is this:

In essence, this question is asking us how we balance real life with the writing life.

This is a tough one to answer because I’m still pretty inexperienced as far as big projects go. However, I think my recent attempt at participating in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) opened my eyes to the importance of setting realistic expectations. Writing is HARD. Sometimes I feel blessed by the writing Gods… making the time to write comes easily, the words flow onto the page and it all doesn’t completely suck. More often though, I’m tormented by the inability to find/make the time to sit down and work, I’m at a complete loss for words and what I do manage to write is unimaginative and dull.

The reality for me is that I’m lucky if I can knock out 300 words whenever I do force myself to park my ass in the chair and work. My outline is currently a mess because I’ve been indecisive about how many parts it should be based on a gap in time within my story and whether or not that will affect the number of chapters, word count, etc. (I know at this stage it is not supposed to matter but I can’t stop obsessing over it.) I *thought* I would be able to complete my first draft a lot quicker; I’m coming up on a full year and only have two-thirds of it completed. And, to top it all off, I have no fucking clue what I’m doing.

All of that has to be balanced with my responsibilities as a wife and mother while managing a household, paid writing work, projects and hobbies, health and fitness endeavors, and whatever else life throws my way. I guess, to be honest, I don’t know that there really is a true balance. The key though, I’m learning, is to ignore the unrealistic expectations and focus on doing what I can when I can.

To sum it up, I suppose that I honor my reality by showing up to write even though life is a big, crazy blur and my work is all a mess and complicated and I’m afraid that I don’t know what I’m doing. And I’ll keep showing up because I know that’s the only way I’ll achieve what I’ve set out to do.

 

:: How Did You Become A Writer? ::

* This post is in response to a writing prompt from DIY MFA Book Club which I wrote about here.

I didn’t set out to become a writer. It sort of sought me out.

It is said that we often don’t see the correlation between our chosen career path and what we are called to do until we look back over our job history and work experiences. This is certainly true for me. I didn’t know I wanted to be a writer until about 2010 when I discovered that I had two non-fiction book ideas floating around in my head. One was about dreadlocks with a working title of A Head Full of Dreads and Nothing to Wear (no, I’m not kidding) and the other was a cookbook that focused on bean recipes and was titled something along the lines of Beans, Beans, the Magical Fruit. (Also, not kidding.)

In 2010, I was laid-off from a job in the fire service. I’d spend the previous five years in the role of Community Liaison Specialist and Public Information Officer where my duties included writing press releases, public service announcements, and an endless array of material for publications on fire prevention. Prior to that, I’d spent about eight years working for a radio station where I wrote news stories and advertising copy.

A throwback to my fire service days. (The house behind me was being burned down intentionally, FYI.)

Following the layoff, I started teaching yoga and created a monthly newsletter that included articles about the practice or specific poses that I sent out to my students. In early 2013, I started training for my first marathon and subsequently started a blog to chronicle the journey which I kept active until the end of 2016. I was also asked from time-to-time to help write things for family and friends; copy for a website my brother was building, an obituary for my husband’s grandmother upon her passing, a guest post for a friends blog, race previews for Run Oregon.

All the while, I couldn’t figure out what I wanted to do with my life.

At some point in 2015, it became clear. What I was meant to do, I had already been doing for years! Regardless of job titles, I had always found a way to weave writing into my duties whether it was asked for of the position or not. Writing gave me joy and it seemed to come naturally. In fact, one of the best compliments – albeit slightly backhanded – I ever received was from the Fire Chief I worked under. He once said to me that “despite not having a college education, you’re a pretty good writer.” That comment has stuck with me all of these years and I still try to live up to that praise.

Writing – with the ultimate goal of being a published author – is now how I dream of spending my days.

 

:: DIY MFA Book Club ::

As a writer who aspires to become better at my craft, I try to regularly participate in activities that are in alignment with that goal. Reading and studying various texts by seasoned authors and authorities on the subject is a prominent piece of the puzzle. One such book that I picked up last summer and have been slowly making my way through is DIY MFA by Gabriela Pereira.

For the sake of full disclosure and transparency, I do not have a college degree. In fact, I dropped out of community college when I was 17 years old before completing the first term. (Honestly, I don’t think I even made it a month!) While that is another story for another day, I will say that on many occasions over the years in professional settings especially, I’ve allowed the lack of a certificate to make me feel less than enough. Now, 23 years later, I still find myself occasionally wishing that I had followed that path because I would love to have a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing. However, at least at this point in my life, it’s not in the cards.

So back to DIY MFA. I was drawn to it because Ms. Pereira has created a do-it-yourself alternative to the college experience and teaches her readers how to apply the fundamentals of the MFA program – writing, reading and building a support network – without stepping foot on a campus or going into crippling debt.

In addition to the book, she offers a number of resources and coaching opportunities to help writers refine their skills. One such program I’m currently participating in is a book club that works through some of the concepts in DIY MFA and includes challenges such as writing prompts in which we are asked to write about a specific topic and share our work. Our first assignment is based on the question: how did you become a writer?

I’ll be sharing my response to that prompt in a forthcoming post as well as future ones throughout the event.

DIY MFA Book Club Participant

Participant badge.

 

 

::A brief recap of NaNoWriMo::

Even though November is a distant memory, I’m still getting regular email from the National Novel Writing Month organization (NaNoWriMo). The messages in my inbox consist of requests for support, opportunities for writers to get feedback on their manuscripts, or alerts about new blog posts on topics such as maintaining creative momentum and the next steps in the pursuit of publishing.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for supporting this awesome organization and welcome mail from them! However, each email has been a somewhat bitter reminder of my failed attempt to participate in the movement. (I wrote a little bit about what derailed my efforts here.) Having had a little time to reflect these past few weeks following NaNoWriMo, I’ve realized that I actually gained some solid insight from my attempt… even if I don’t have a complete manuscript to show for it.

Four things I learned attempting to participate in NaNoWriMo 2017.

Lesson #1

In the weeks leading up to November, I was at a complete loss for an idea – a story – to write about. Then, magically one day in the shower, I was struck by an idea. A good idea (at least I think it’s a good idea and that’s all that matters, right?)! For the past year, I’ve been so attached to the work of my first (still in progress) novel, The Colonel’s Keeper, that I couldn’t see past it or believe that I was capable of unlocking another creative treasure buried somewhere deep inside my subconscious. I was pleasantly surprised to discover otherwise!

Lesson #2

One of my concerns leading up to NaNoWriMo was whether or not I should finish my current manuscript first and either not participate or put it on hold to work on the new idea. I chose the latter. Even now, I’m not really sure I’ve found the right answer but instinctively, I feel like I should focus on one project at a time and finish what I’ve already started before moving onto the next thing. The preparation I did for NaNoWriMo has allowed me to create a pretty solid story and foundation for my next novel and I look forward to working on it at a later date. I even have a head start since I wrote almost 4,000 words! But that said, this experience taught me that I’m a one manuscript at a time kind of writer.

Lesson #3

Something I’ve been exploring this year is realistic vs. unrealistic expectations in relation to how much I can juggle at any given time. Beginning in January, I had four big projects vying for my attention. I was training for a spring marathon, studying to take an exam to earn my real estate license, trying to build my freelance writing business, and write a novel. I felt overwhelmed for the first few months of the year and not certain that any one of those things was really getting the attention they deserved. The first thing to go was marathon training. I got injured and then sick in February which turned out to be a blessing in disguise because I was forced to take that off the table. Later, I decided that my heart is not in real estate and decided to not pursue my license. That, of course, left the writing stuff, because honestly, that IS where my heart is.

The lesson here is that four is too much. Three is a little more manageable. Two is ideal. Two is my magic number.

As far as how this was applied to my NaNoWriMo experience, I guess that what I’m trying to say is that I simply had too much on my plate in November and I didn’t recognize that until after I’d already announced my participation. I’m hopeful that this will allow me to plan better for the 2018 event.

As a side note, this topic is something that I plan to explore deeper as we move into 2018 and I begin planning and goal setting. I have also discovered the paralysis that comes from having so many ideas, goals, and ambitions… basically, I recede into a prolonged state of disorientation and get NOTHING accomplished. I intend to streamline my workflow a bit better so I can truly focus on things that light me up.

Lesson #4

Time away from my first project has rekindled the desire to see it through to completion. Honestly, I was a little scared that if I took time away from writing The Colonel’s Keeper, I may not return to that work. Those few weeks – okay… months, if I’m being honest – that I put that project on hold and let my project have my attention turned out to be the refresh I needed. I’ve been slowly making my way back and feel recharged. NaNoWriMo gave me the opportunity to step back and take a much-needed break to process where I was and where I am heading.

I’ve got my work cut out for me over the next 10.5 months because now I need to finish the two manuscripts I’ve started so I can have a clean slate come NaNoWriMo 2018!

The write life.

How do we live the writer’s life? There’s only one simple answer: we write. ~Dani Shapiro

:: Mid Month Check-in ::

This morning, after a period of disbelief over the fact that it is officially the middle of November and one week until Thanksgiving (how can that be?!), I started to slip down the slope of self-criticism. For starters, my intention to write a 50,000-word novel as a participant of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) went down the shitter about three days in. I also promised myself that I’d practice my handstand skills every day. And seek new freelance writing gigs. And… I’ll stop there. The kicker is that I also volunteered myself to work behind the scenes on social media content for a film being shot on location in various parts of Idaho. So all of that while traveling and spending several hours each day on set too. Doh.

Almost two weeks ago, a newsletter landed in my email inbox from writer, artist, and fellow sober sister, Tammi Salas, that really hit home. In it, she talks about how, and I’m summarizing here, overachievement is a type of drunkenness. We set these lofty goals and create high expectations and it does feel a little like being drunk; because when we’ve altered our state of being and inhibition has left the building, anything is possible, right?

Here is an excerpt from the letter:

You see, just because I quit drinking alcohol over 1,000 days ago doesn’t mean I still don’t get drunk. I get drunk on ideas and to-do lists sometimes. I get drunk on overachieving and seeing if I can channel my inner-Martha Stewart on-demand. I get drunk on unattainable goals. And, I most definitely get drunk on unrealistic expectations. This, my friends, is when I am most definitely NOT (emotionally) sober.

She goes on to say that we can give ourselves permission to stop the insanity and that it is okay change our minds, our direction, our plan, our whatever. We have the power to quiet that nagging, insistent voice that says we have to do ALL THE THINGS. We don’t. We really don’t.

This has been a recurring theme for me quite some time and I’m so over it! I will definitely be doing some personal work in the coming weeks and months to free myself from this cycle. (In fact, I’ve been trying to read Present Over Perfect for a few months now and it seems fitting that I dive back into that asap!)

I should note that while the past few weeks have been a whirlwind, I’ve gotten to explore Idaho and see parts of the country I’d never seen before. I fell head-over-heels in love with the city of Coeur D’Alene which is now in a heated battle with my number one dream city to live in, Bend, Oregon (or central Oregon in general). I’ve met a number of great people and spent time with old friends. I’ve worked alongside my husband on a film set for the first time and in a few days, will witness my son act for the first time as one of the characters in the film. And, I’ve still got ideas and stories floating around in my head that I am determined to craft into manuscripts.

Oh, and today I practiced my handstand so not all is lost.

If your curious about my behind the scenes work on the film Mischief Upon Mischief, follow along on Instagram at @MUMMovie.

:: National Novel Writing Month ::

Several years ago, in early November, a flier at the public library caught my eye. The handout was promoting National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) and the challenge created by the organization that encourages writers to complete a novel – or 50,000+ words – in the 30 calendar days between November 1st and 30th.

It was already several days into the month, if not a week or more when I saw the flier. I considered joining late but ultimately ended up passing on the opportunity, putting it off for another year when, I dunno, I’d be less busy.

A few months ago I started thinking about it again. At a third of the way through the manuscript I’ve been working on since January, with a goal completion date of October, I figured I had plenty of time to finish my current work and then get ready for NaNoWriMo. Then life and procrastination happened. I missed my self-imposed October deadline and – in the spirit of truth-telling – I’m not even two-thirds of the way finished and we’re well past mid-October.

Regardless, I signed up for NaNoWriMo anyway. Without a single idea or spark of inspiration, I created an account on the website and then contemplated not doing it at all, rather continuing the work I’ve been doing on my first novel, The Colonel’s Keeper. I watched the first half of the month go by without anything to work from… no plot, no outline, no characters to develop, no nothing.

And then BAM! The gods and goddesses of inspiration responded to my pleas while I was in the shower yesterday and an idea slowly started to form.

I guess at this point, I have no more excuses…

Working Title: Take a Lover

Genre: Historical Fiction

Synopsis: In 1932, nineteen-year-old Scarlet Mills is a liberal arts student on scholarship at the College of Creative Studies in Detroit, Michigan. Suffering from anxiety and depression following years of sexual abuse at the hands of her father, she writes poetry as a means to cope with her pain while pursuing a degree in creative writing. After a chance meeting with an eccentric painter from Mexico, the pair becomes friends, then lovers. The encouragement by her lover to pursue her writing and sexuality throughout their brief relationship takes Scarlet on a journey of self-discovery and healing.

Visit the National Novel Writing Month website for more information or to commit to writing your own novel next month!

:: August was outstanding!::

With the arrival of a new month, I’ve spent much of the morning reflecting on August and all that I was able to experience and accomplish. Over the course of those 31 days, I didn’t realize how much fun and magic I was packing into it!

On a blog I previously published (www.wasntjustthewinetalking.com, which is still active but irrelevant since I’ve shifted my focus from running and no longer drink, FYI), one of my favorite features was my month in review. The practice of acknowledging these little details is such a great way for me to express gratitude and marvel at how awesome this life of mine is.

I’ve struggled hard to keep any sort of regularity with my postings here but I’d love to return to the habit of sharing my monthly reflection and review for the sake of the practice.

August was an outstanding month!

➼ Started the month of August in Oregon and spent a total of 13 days there.

➼ Closed on the sale of our home in Oregon of 18 years.

➼ Celebrated our daughter’s 20th birthday.

➼ Spent some quality 1:1 time with my mister in Cali.

➼ Awesome road trip with my mister stopping in Guerneville, CA, and Ashland, OR, on the way to our destination and Dunsmuir, CA, on our return trip home.

➼ Visiting Autocamp Russian River – an Airstream and luxury tent hotel – and roasting dinner over the fire pit, stargazing, and soaking up time among trees with my mister was a huge highlight!

➼ Spent a lot of time with my daughter, parents/in-laws, family, and good friends.

➼ Witnessed the totality of the August 21, 2017, solar eclipse and saw a handful of shooting stars.

➼ Attended 21 CrossFit classes. (I’m completely obsessed and hooked!)

➼ Ran 16.25 miles and walked or hiked another (approximately) 24 miles.

➼ Attended one yoga class.

➼ Completed 14 writing projects for clients.

➼ Finished reading two books.

➼ Completed writing a chapter for my novel.

➼ Reached 239 days of sobriety.

Happy September!